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Music Review: Kapranos on Yann Tiersen

Sitting on the Tube last week, listlessly flipping the gossip pages of the Metro, I detected an exotic twinge in the air. Beside me chic girls in scarves were chattering to floppy guys in jumpers. Ah the French I thought, delighted. You might attribute the Gallic invasion of London to Top Shop and the dead pound but I, for one, welcome it being a big fan of all things French.

My Francophilia began with Amelie, a film I was obsessed with. I loved it’s wonderfully rosy and rose-tinted version of Paris. Its inhabitants were quirky, romantic and amazingly French, the cinematography was crisp. But what, when you really think about it, embodied Amelie's spell binding atmosphere? The answer is simple, that amazing soundtrack, courtesy of French composer, Yann Tiersen.

His whimsical accordion and piano waltzes skipped round each other and the stylised scenes, casting their musical magic upon Montmartre. An unashamedly huge fan, I listen to Tiersen’s scores constantly, the music usually having an effect of stirring up naïve sentimentality.

His music is wholly to blame for my feeble attempts at poetry, for kissing unsuitable French men, and even more pathetic, for my recent purchase of a shiny new accordion.

So it was with girlish excitement that I ran along to Camden’s Electric Ballroom last Thursday to see the man himself. Tiersen has arrived on British soil accompanied by a 7 piece band to play a short tour of the UK to promote his new album, ‘Yann Tiersen On Tour’. The new record, a collection of some of his favourite performances recorded on recent tours is a move to a more rock-inspired sound. From the press material I gathered that the gig would not feature the side of Tiersen I was most familiar with, his lilting tunes and frantic waltzes, and there would be no accordion.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the gig was how distinctly un-Camden it felt. I peered over the crowd, looking for the big hair, tight leather jackets and skinny jeans, but not a pointy shoe in sight. Instead, the crowd seemed selected from an enthusiastic
exchange programme, and strangely, consisted of men standing behind their girlfriends with their arms wrapped round their waists and heads on their shoulders. So that’s where the Europeans were hanging out!

The band came onstage and took their place alongside their instruments, mostly guitars and a couple of keyboards. It took me a while to figure out that this wasn’t the support act. A tall guy looking nothing like Yann took centre stage only to open his mouth now and again to omit a variety of random noises. It was only halfway through the first song that I spotted the man himself standing right of centre, an unassuming figure hunched over his guitar.

The first few songs consisted of very atmospheric guitars backed by rich keyboards and synthesisers, including Tiersen’s trademark Ondes Martenot organ. Most distinctive was the ghostly synth that was used throughout the gig, a sound reminiscent of running a wet finger round the rim of a crystal glass. This noise gave the music a magical quality that elevated it above monotonous guitar strumming. Great music to have in the background, but hard to get the crowd excited in a packed venue. Indeed, at times, impatient chatter welled up around me as the band failed to involve the audience.

A quarter of the way into the gig, Tiersen took the microphone, and the couples looked up from their lip locking. His soft pensive singing perfectly complemented the guitar heavy sound, and there wasn’t enough of it. It was hard to distinguish one song from another. It probably didn’t help that the majority of the audience had not already heard a great deal of Tiersen’s new album. Because of this, it did feel more that we were listening to a musical score rather than a gig of hit singles or stand out songs.

Yann Tiersen alternated between guitar and violin throughout the concert. His violin solo halfway through, in the song ‘1er reveille par temps de Guerre’ – a frantic Hungarian Dance style belter – was breathtaking and the audience rewarded him with a huge cheer. The mix of violin and guitar worked well, adding a folky feel to the synthesiser and creating an atmospheric sound unlike anything I had really heard before.

The last song of the encore was the only one I recognised. The ‘La Valse d’Amelie’ theme was picked out by Tiersen on a synthesiser, adding a new dimension and ethereal quality to this recognised tune.

I hadn’t known what to expect and the gig was certainly different from any Tiersen I previously knew, but despite knowing none of the material, I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t be able to sing back any of the songs I heard, but the overall effect was fantastic. Again, perfect for listening to in your room, but maybe not live, which is ironic, considering ‘On Tour’ is a live album.

What struck me most throughout the gig was the sheer multi instrumental talent of Yann Tiersen, which comes across in all of his musical arrangements. His singing and his stage presence is reserved, but beautiful - I just wish I had seen and heard more from him.

Check out Yann on his MySpace pages: ...

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